Youth Leading a Rearing Horse; Alexander and Bucephalus
- Place of origin:
Milan, Italy (made)
Bambaia, born 1483 - died 1548 (style of, sculptor)
Benedetto Cervi (sculptor)
- Materials and Techniques:
White marble carved in hight relief
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval and Renaissance, room 64, case 8
This relief probably illustrates the story of Alexander and his horse Bucephalus. The horse appeared unmanageable but Alexander noticed it was scared by its own shadow. He tamed the horse by turning its head to the sun, so it could not see its shadow, and by stroking it and speaking softly. The significance of the date has not yet been discovered.
Benedetto Cervi (active Milan and Pavia, 1500-1532), also called Benedetto Pavese, was mentioned by Lomazzo as the sculptor responsible for the battle-reliefs of the monument to Gaston de Foix. As stated by Lomazzo he was working on the de Foix tomb until 1521 and in 1522 he is documented as living in the house of Agostino Busti. Ten years later Busti sub-contracts the commission for three reliefs to him, as is certified by notarial acts of the period, which record the original commission, the contract between Busti and Cervi and the payment of the reliefs.
Agostino Busti (1483-1548), Il Bambaia, first documented in 1512, when he and his brother Polidoro applied to the Fabbrica del Duomo for employment. It has been suggested that he must have spent some of his formative years in France, to explain why he was so little known in Milan in 1512, when he was already titled a ‘maestro’, and why he was selected by the King of France, to sculpt the monument for his nephew Gaston de Foix, in S. Marta, Milan. The only known work by him before this major commission is the funeral monument for the poet Lancino Curzio, begun in 1513. He seems to have travelled to Rome in 1514, where he studied Roman tomb sculpture and sarcophagi, lessons which he applied to his next monument, the tomb of Gaston de Foix. From 1535 Bambaia works mainly on the Cathedral of Milan, as a sculptor and a teacher to young apprentices. He died in Milan in june 1547.
Youth leading a rearing horse, relief in marble. A youth in classical armour leads a rearing horse against a backdrop of a landscape and castles; in the centre a youth in classical armour walks to the right with a voluminous cloak in his right hand. With his left hand he holds the muzzle of a rearing horse. To the right are several oak trees, in front of which is the broken trunk of a palm tree with a single flourishing branch; behind this appears another broken trunk, also with a single branch. Against the palm tree lean a shield and an unidentified object; on the ground beneath it lie a helmet and a sword. The left half of the relief is machicolated. In the left and centre background is an extensive landscape with two towns or castles, one by the shore of a lake near which there perches a bird, and one on the upper slope of a distant mountain. Beneath on the shallow base is the inscription 'AD. I.S. 1515 AVT. NVMQVAM. TENTES. AVT. PERFICE.'
Place of Origin
Milan, Italy (made)
Bambaia, born 1483 - died 1548 (style of, sculptor)
Benedetto Cervi (sculptor)
Materials and Techniques
White marble carved in hight relief
Marks and inscriptions
'AD. I.S. 1515 AVT. NVMQVAM. TENTES. AVT. PERFICE.' If you don't try you don't suceed
Height: 41.4 cm, Width: 36.5 cm, Depth: 14.3 cm
Object history note
The relief was brought to Paris from Milan together with the other two (400-1854 and 7257-1860) in the 18th century, where it was kept in the Collection of Alexandre Lenoir, Founder of the Musee des Monuments Francais. A drawing of them was sent to Cicognara before 1816, who also reported that they had only recently been brought from Milan to Paris. They seem to have returned to Italy for a few years in the first half of the 19th century, when a dealer brings them from Italy to London. Robinson notes the following about the purchase of this relief: “The first piece (the relievo, No. 400) was purchased in 1854, […], from a dealer who had brought it from Italy; the two other relievos might have been acquired at the same time , but the formation of a methodic sculpture collection not being then contemplated, they were rejected, but not lost sight of. […] The drawing having already been acquired at the sale, the remaining three marbles were immediately purchased for a small amount.
Historical context note
The only contemporary testimony of Cervi’s activity as sculptor comes from Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo’s Trattato dell’arte della pittura, scoltura et architettura, published in Milan in 1584. Lomazzo mentions Benedetto Pavese (now correctly identified as Benedetto Cervi of Pavia) together with Donatello and Caradosso among the eccellenti moderni, who imitated the relief-style of the ancient masters and were able to carve “legs and other parts in the round”. Lomazzo also credits Cervi with the execution of the battle-reliefs on the tomb of “Monsu di Lotrecco” in Sta Marta, Milan, by which he probably meant the famous tomb of Gaston de Foix (cousin of Odet de Foix, Vicomte de Lautrec). Therefore we have a testimony stating that Cervi collaborated with Agostino Busti between 1515 and 1521, the years Busti was working on the monument for the French soldier. The first documentary evidence shows him active at the Certosa di Pavia between 1500 and 1507, as well as in 1518 when he carved the 24 cherubs surrounding the central rose-window on the façade. A document of 1522 declares that Cervi was living in Busti’s house, thus reinforcing the close working relationship between the two sculptors. In 1531 Busti receives a commission from Bernardo dei Girami for three ‘pictures’ in Carrara marble with histories and a nude Venus. In 1532 Busti pays Cervi 200 libras imperialium for three quadris, one with two horses …. with a seated emperor and other statues, one with one horse and other figures and one with a Lucretia and other figures. The first two can easily be identified with 7257-1860 and 7260-1860, the third could be the Suicide of Lucretia in the Castello Sforzesco, Milan. The attribution of the reliefs to Cervi can be further supported by a stylistic comparison with the only known signed relief, which is an Alabaster carving of the Virgin and Child with St Elizabeth and the Young St John the Baptist in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles. It is clearly in the style of Bambaia and his school and it is signed “B*s PP”, for Benedictus Papie, on the underside of the relief.
The open composition of the relief contrasts quite clearly with the enclosed spaces of the reliefs by Busti, but appears in the V&A, Prado and Getty reliefs. This construction of the space, therefore demonstrates the different level of influence Busti had on the different pieces known to be by Cervi. Working as one of Busti’s many assistants on the Gaston de Foix tomb (see note on statues) he might have stood out enough in his virtuoso carving to elicit Lomazzo’s attention and praise, yet he had to follow Bambaia’s design and style, thus setting his figures in enclosed spaces to match the others. The type of working relationship for the 1531 commission is of a different nature. Busti sub-contracts the entire commission to Cervi, thus giving him much greater freedom of design and execution than he would have had as an assistant. Since Cervi was not a master at the time of the commission, while Busti was a well known sculptor, who had worked for the French king and the Duomo of Milan, it is understandable that the original commission would have gone to the teacher, who then passed it on to whichever student he deemed best suited. Remembering Lomazzo’s mention of Cervi’s fame as a sculptor of battle reliefs, he seems a perfect choice for this commission.
Together with the other two reliefs (400-1854 and 7257-1860) and the relief in the Prado, Madrid, it probably formed part of a monument in honour of King Francis I of France, commemorating his life and reign. It could have either been an early commission for his tomb sculpture, which also bears reliefs with stories of his wars and victories, or as part of a secular monument, like a fountain or an arch. The reliefs are carved with stories from the lives of great kings and inscribed with lines from ancient texts commemorating these lives. The chosen historical figures on this relief is Alexander, a great conqueror, and appropriate metaphor to commemorate the great conquests of King Francis I of France.
The subject matter, may illustrate the story of Alexander and Bucephalus, which is recounted in Plutarch’s Life of Alexander, VI, 4: “When Philonieus, the Thessalian, offered the horse named Bucephalus in sale to Philip [Alexander's father], at the price of thirteen talents, the king, with the prince and many others, went into the field to see some trial made of him. The horse appeared extremely vicious and unmanageable, but Alexander, who had observed him well, said, "What a horse they are losing, for want of skill and spirit to manage him!"
Alexander ran to the horse, and laying hold on the bridle, turned him to the sun; for he had observed, it seems, that the shadow which fell before the horse, and continually moved as he moved, greatly disturbed him. While his fierceness and fury abated, he kept speaking to him softly and stroking him; after which he gently let fall his mantle, leaped lightly upon his back, and got his seat very safe.
Philip and all his court were in great distress for him at first, and a profound silence took place. But when the prince had turned him and brought him straight back, they all received him with loud acclamations, except his father, who wept for joy, and kissing him, said, "Seek another kingdom, my son, that may be worthy of thy abilities; for Macedonia is too small for thee..."”
Benedetto Cervi (active Milan and Pavia, 1500-1532), also called Benedetto Pavese, was mentioned by Lomazzo as the sculptor responsible for the battle-reliefs of the monument to Gaston de Foix. Documentary evidence prove his work on the façade of the Certosa di Pavia between 1500 and 1507 and again in 1518, when he sculpted the twenty-four cherubs surrounding the central rosette. As stated by Lomazzo he was working on the de Foix tomb until 1521 and in 1522 he is documented as living in the house of Agostino Busti. Ten years later Busti sub-contracts the commission for three reliefs to him, as is certified by notarial acts of the period, which record the original commission, the contract between Busti and Cervi and the payment of the reliefs.
Agostino Busti (1483-1548), Il Bambaia,first documented in 1512, when he and his brother Polidoro applied to the Fabbrica del Duomo for employment. It has been suggested that he must have spent some of his formative years in France, to explain why he was so little known in Milan in 1512, when he was already titled a ‘maestro’, and why he was selected by the King of France, to sculpt the monument for his nephew Gaston de Foix, in S. Marta, Milan. The only known work by him before this major commission is the funeral monument for the poet Lancino Curzio, begun in 1513. He seems to have travelled to Rome in 1514, where he studied Roman tomb sculpture and sarcophagi, lessons which he applied to his next monument, the tomb of Gaston de Foix. In 1522 he completed the tomb of Gian Marco and Zenone Birago and six years later he received a commission for a further tomb in S. Marta, for Giovanni Antonio Bellotti. From 1535 Bambaia works mainly on the Cathedral of Milan, as a sculptor and a teacher to young apprentices. His last known commission was the marble tomb of S. Evasio in the cathedral of Casale Monferrato, which he left to be completed by Ambrogio Volpi. He died in Milan in june 1547.
King Francis I (1494-1547), called the Father and Restorer of Letters, and France’s first Renaissance monarch, was crowned in 1515 and reigned until his death in 1547. He was a major patron of the arts, employing a number of renowned Renaissance artists, most famously Benvenuto Cellini and Leonardo da Vinci. Francis I. was also responsible for building or restoring a vast number of chateaux in France, including the chateaux de Blois and of Fontainebleau. Politically, he tried unsuccessfully to become Holy Roman Emperor and engaged in a number of wars with Italy.
Alexandre Lenoir (1761-1839), Founder of the Museum of French Monuments. Created the Museum in order to safeguard monuments, tombs and sculptures from the destructions of the Revolution. He also was an archeologist and painter and he was Honore Daunier’s first teacher.
The Duomo, Milan. Begun in 1387 on a site where several churches had previously existed the Dumo's construction began by order of Gian Galeazzo Visconti. The construction proved to be a daunting task and frequently architects and consultants were hired and dismissed from the project. Of those who worked on the Cathedral, Leonardo and Bramante are the most notable.
The Duomo was completed over 500 years from the start of construction and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary upon completion.
If the reliefs were for a monument in honour of King Francis I., the Duomo in Milan would have been the most prominent and most suitable place to display it.
Group, relief in marble, by Benedetto Cervi, also called Pavese, sub-contracted by Agostino Busti called Bambaia, Italy (Milan), dated 1515
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Williamson. P European Sculpture at The Victoria & Albert Museum (London, 1996)
Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1860. In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 23
Trusted, Marjorie, ed. The Making of Sculpture. The Materials and Techniques of European Sculpture. London: 2007, p. 98, pl. 169
Maclagan, Eric and Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture. Text. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1932, p. 117
Pope-Hennessy, John. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Volume II: Text. Sixteenth to Twentieth Century. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1964, pp. 545-549
Raggio, Olga. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albertt Museum. Art Bulletin. Vol. L, 1968, p. 102
Fiorio, Maria Teresa. Bambaia. Catalogo complete delle opera. Florence, 1990, pp. 30-32, pp. 31-32, pp. 144-146, p. 147 no 8a
Agosti, Giovanni. Bambaia e il Classicismo Lambardo. Turin, 1990, pp. 24, 158, fig. 132
Gatti, Sergio. "Nuove aggiunte al catalogo di 'Benedetto Pavese' collaboratore di Agostino Busti delto il Bambaia". In: Arte Lombarda, 96/97, 1991, pp. 117-119
ascribes this relief and its companions (400-1854 and 7257-1860) to Benedetto Cervi, called Benedetto Pavese. Agrees with Fiorio that they come from a secular rather than a funerary monument
Labels and date
YOUTH LEADING A REARING HORSE
Benedetto Cervi, also called Pavese (active 1500-32)
Sub-contracted from Agostino Busti, called Bambaia (1483-1548)
The relief probably illustrates the story of Alexander and his horse Bucelphalus. The horse appeared unmanageable, but Alexander noticed that it was scared by its own shadow. He tamed it by turning it to the sun, so it couldn't see its shadow, and by stroking it and speaking softly. The significance of the date in the inscription is not yet known.
Inscribed in Latin, '1515. If you don't try you don't succeed'
Museum no. 7260-1860 
Busti paid Cervi on 31st August 1532 for three "quadri". Documents refer to Cervi as "habitans in civitate Papie" and to Busti as residing in Milan in the 1530s.
Men; Birds; Trees; Horses; Castles; Shield; Sword; Helmet; Classicism; Youth; Alexander the Great; Bucephalus